EU internet privacy laws tightened

No more insults?

Norway's Data Inspectorate says it is ready to go after people who publish embarrassing pictures of others without their permission, the Norwegian daily paper Aftenposten reports.

A recent decision by a EU tribunal clears the way for tougher privacy regulations elsewhere too. Any business with a website must prepare for a crackdown by European Data Protection Registrars, Manchester law firm Rowe Cohen now warns.

This month the EU ruled on an extraordinary case that may have profound implications for Internet users and business across Europe.

The story begins with a Swedish woman named Bodil Lindqvist (you can see a picture of her here, a community-minded parishioner and volunteer worker from Alseda, who was prosecuted for publishing a website to assist fellow church-goers in their confirmation preparations. The pages contained information about her colleagues, whom she described in mildly humorous terms. In several cases their family circumstances, telephone number and other details were given.

Much to her surprise, Mrs Lindqvist was fined SEK 4,000 (approximately €450) by the Swedish District Court for "processing personal data by automatic means without notifying the Datainspektion" (the Swedish supervisory authority for the protection of electronically transmitted data) and "transferring data to third countries without authorisation and for processing sensitive personal data".

Mrs Lindqvist thought this was unfair. After all, her actions were motivated by the very best of intentions, so she appealed against the decision to the Göta hovrätt or Swedish Court of Appeal, which referred the case to the European Court of Justice. It in turn ruled that the posting of personal information, images or video clips of others without their consent violates laws based on the EU 1995 European Data Protection Directive.

With the EU ruling in place, Norway's Data Inspectorate now says (even though it is not a EU member country) it will crack down on the growing problem of web sites featuring so called sneak photos - youth sites where drunken teens are exposed in embarrassing poses or pictures taken of girls in school showers with camera-enabled mobile phones.

"We can order sites to remove illegal content and if they do not comply issue daily fines," DI information chief Ove Skaara told Aftenposten.

It doesn’t mean everybody that puts up a humorous website can get prosecuted: Norway's personal information laws do allow for exceptions on ‘journalistic and artistic grounds’ as well as ‘in the interests of freedom of speech’. Most European countries have similar rules.

Rowe Cohen, however, believes the ruling can have significant implications for all European business. Companies must be aware that corporate and e-commerce websites that hold personal information are a significant data protection liability, the firm told the UK magazine Online Recruitment. Companies must review their online activities to ensure their compliance with Data Protection Regulations. ®

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